On to the next chapter in Ashish Dalela’s book “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. It’s called “The Vedic View of the Universe”, as opposed to modern scientific approach where people get confused by differences between theories and models, inherent indeterminism etc.
This isn’t exactly the Vedic view yet, however, it’s Vedic view explained in the language of westerners, an explanation in terms we know. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t use these terms and so much of what is said in this chapter does not appear in our books. As far as I can tell, it isn’t contradictory either, it’s just one way to explain the same things. Kudos to Dalela for doing that because it certainly makes our understanding easier. Genuine Vedic explanation will come in later chapters on Sāṅkhya and on the universe itself.
The main and most crucial difference between Vedic and modern understanding of the universe is that Vedas talk about semantic space-time whereas science talks about physical space-time. Dalela says that physical space-time is open, flat, and linear. I’m not sure I understand it correctly but to me it means that all objects in the universe are equal, made of the same elementary particles and perceived equally, all have the same features and properties. In that sense the universe is flat. Physical space time is also potentially unlimited, which makes it open. These days we can’t talk about the universe without evoking the concept of infinity. We agree that our universe has boundaries, which are believed to be expanding, but there’s no theoretical limit to this expansion. Similarly, there’s no theoretical limit to how small things can get. Linear means that we believe there are no gaps in the space of our universe. There might be vacuum between stars but the space still exists and light would travel through each and every point in this space. The number of these points is also unlimited, just like the number of points on a line.
To be honest, I always thought that the Vedic universe is the same. It does have fixed outer boundary but I thought there’s no limit to how small things can get here. It’s also made more or less of the same stuff, ie “flat”, it’s just that some stuff here has subtle properties, like demigods and their planets, and some stuff is gross, like sewage down here. It’s still more or less the same stuff from top of the universe to the bottom. That’s also how we draw the Vedic universe – all the fourteen worlds on the same piece of paper at the same time. I also assumed that the universe is linear in a sense that if one travels from the Earth to Brahmāloka he’d pass through each and every point in between, and the number of these points is similarly unlimited.
The universe is also linear in a sense that time always goes from past to the future, never mind repeating days, weeks, months, years, yugas etc. This is also a concept carried over from western understanding.
Semantic space-time is closed, hierarchical, and cyclic. The universe is not unlimited in any direction but there’s a discreet number of objects here. It’s a pretty big number but no more than that. Objects here are also not equal so you can’t really draw Brahmaloka and the Earth on the same diagram, they are not perceived simultaneously and their lives do not cross just like lives of Walmart family and Walmart cashiers never cross. This hierarchical nature will be explained later. The universe is also not linear and there ARE gaps between objects here, plus there are no direct connections between objects, and there’s no empty space between them either – that space simply does not exist.
Vedic universe is a universe of models of some abstracts (which exist prior to the models). Explaining these models is equal to producing them. All the objects in the universe are conceptual and not physical. They are just ideas being explained in more and more detail and at some point in these explanations we, the earthlings, call them physical.
Semantic universe means the universe of meanings, not of things. From now on the book will talk about semantic universe over and over again and it’s a concept that we must fully grasp if we want to succeed here. In semantic universe the meanings are real but in scientific view only sub-atomic particles are real and our perceptions of objects made up of atoms and molecules are not. When we say “diamond” we really mean a combination of carbon atoms, that’s all there is to a diamond, and all our ideas about its beauty and value are products of neurons firing in our brains. Consciousness is also the property of matter, of course, and giant stars millions and millions light years away are made of the same sub-atomic particles as we are. Neil deGrasse Tyson loves to say that our bodies carry some of the star dust produced in the Big Bang. The universe is only matter and its properties.
In semantic universe the ideas are real. Giving them a detailed description produces models, and adding further details produces what we call “matter”. This process will be described in chapters on Sāṅkhya.
The word “model” here is used differently. We make models of “things” that exists – the model of the universe, the model of the solar system, the model of the atom etc, while in the semantic universe models ARE “things”, they are incarnations of abstractions.
In modern understanding models abstract some details from reality and therefore create a limited picture of it. If we talk about forest we neglect trees, if we talk about trees we neglect leaves, if we talk about leaves we neglect their cellular structure. As I said earlier, all these models are not really real in modern science, it’s all just atoms. For these things to become real in the Vedic universe the abstract objects such as “tree” or “forest” or “leaf” must exists BEFORE actual trees, forests, leaves, and even atoms.
In Vedic universe first there’s an idea of a forest. As you describe it in greater detail you produce the idea of a tree. When you describe trees you produce the idea of leaves and so on. Atoms come last, and only then we, the earthlings, can start to perceive these trees and forests and they become “real” to us. In Vedic universe they have been real all along because it’s the universe of meanings, not of things.
This is just the beginning of the explanation of this “semantic space-time”, there’s a lot more to follow and I hope it will become clearer as I move along.